Twenty-three students from Prairie Middle School will be watching this weekend’s Mars Rover landing with special interest; on July 31, they relived the Rover rocket launch, which actually took place nine months ago, as part of a mock launch at Centennial’s United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA has been building and launching rockets for NASA and other clients for 50 years.
ULA invited Denver-area students to their Denver Operations Support Center (DOSC) for an interactive simulation of last November’s launch of an Atlas V rocket, which carried the one-ton Mars Rover into space. Students learned that the rocket weighed 1.2 million pounds at lift-off. The Rover, named Curiosity, is scheduled to land near the Gale Crater on the red planet late Sunday. Students also got to watch a video simulation of the landing, which is so risky the engineers call it “seven minutes of terror.”
“It was great,” said sixth-grader Gigi Djaja, of being part of the mock launch team. “We got to do a lot of fun things,” including wearing a headset and going through a pre-launch checklist.
“I learned that it takes a lot of hard work to launch a rocket into space,” said Malcolm Bamba, also a sixth-grader. “I want to see what the Rover finds on Mars.”
The mock launch was one of many interesting experiences available to Prairie students because of the Cherry Creek School District’s emphasis on science, engineering, technology and mathematics, or STEM.
“This was a phenomenal experience for our students,” said David Gonzales, interim principal at Prairie. “It builds on the momentum we’ve established with the opening of the Institute of Science and Technology. It gives our incoming sixth-graders an idea of what they have to look forward to at Prairie and at Overland.”
The Institute of Science and Technology on the Overland-Prairie campus opened in August 2011 and offers a rigorous curriculum and rich experiences in STEM areas including aviation, health sciences, engineering and computer sciences. Careers in those fields are in high demand and require a high level of education.